Tuesday of Week 3 of Lent – Gospel

Commentary on Matthew 18:21-35

This passage makes a crucial link between God forgiving us, and our forgiving others. Peter asks how many times he should forgive another, and offers what he regards as a very generous seven times. Jesus multiplies that by eleven. In other words, our readiness to forgive should be without limit.

The reason is because that is the way God himself acts towards us. Suppose we only had seven chances of being forgiven our sins in our lifetime, and suppose we were to confess our sins to a priest and were told: “Sorry, you have used up your quota.” Don’t we believe that every single time we genuinely repent, we can renew our relationship with God?

Jesus is simply telling us that, if we are to be his followers, we must act on the same basis with other people. To make his teaching clear, he tells the parable of the two servants. The one with the huge debt is forgiven by the king. He then proceeds to throttle another servant who owes what is, by comparison, a paltry amount.

As indicated in the parable, there is no real proportion between the offence of our sins against an all-holy God, and those made against us by others. And every time we say the Lord’s Prayer, we commit ourselves to this:

Forgive us our sins just as we forgive those who sin against us.

It is indeed a courageous prayer to make. Do we really mean what we say? Do we even think about it when we pray it?

This teaching does not mean turning a blind eye to a person who keeps on doing harm to us. Forgiveness is more than just saying words; it involves an attempt at the restoring of a broken relationship. It involves working for the healing of both sides. With some offences against us, it may be necessary to make a proactive, but totally non-violent response. Our main concern should not be ourselves, but the well-being of the other person whose actions are really self-harmful.

Finally, while forgiveness is a unilateral act, reconciliation is not. Reconciliation is only possible if the two parties are able to come together and do whatever they must to restore the relationship – either offering and/or seeking forgiveness. And, while it is certainly difficult for me to forgive when the other party remains totally unrepentant, I can do so with God’s help, even though I may not be reconciled with the other person.

God’s absolute willingness to forgive may not be obvious to one who has offended and is unrepentant (remember the Prodigal Son whose healing only began when he came to his senses and returned to his Father to ask forgiveness). Still, the injured party must also work on bringing about a healing of the wound of division between both sides. Only then is reconciliation possible and forgiveness complete, and that may take a long time.

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